As many people know, Hammock Inc. is the developer of the wiki project, SmallBusiness.com.*
What you may not know is that my title on SmallBusiness.com is “Head Helper.” Being head helper for a project as big and complex as a 20,000-entry (and growing daily) wiki running on the same software platform used by Wikipedia has given me a few years of knowledge that is limited to a rather small group of people. (And, as I’ve attended one, I can even tell you where you’d find them.)
While Hammock is likely the only custom media and content marketing firm to create and grow such a large-scale wiki project as SmallBusiness.com, I predict others will enter the field as companies and associations become more aware of the hidden magic of the wiki platform. To be honest, if for no other reason than trying to figure out why Wikipedia shows up on the first results page of nearly any Google search, I’d be spending time trying to understand everything there is to know about Wikipedia, even if I wasn’t a wikimaniac.
Here are, in no particular order, some of the most important things you should know about wikis – straight from an official wiki “head-helper”:
1. The word “wiki” doesn’t just refer to the wiki called Wikipedia: In the south, we used to say (and some continue to say) the word coke as a generic term for soft drink. You would say, “I’d like a coke? And the waitress would respond, “What kind?” And you’d say, “an RC.” Sort of like Coca-Cola in the south before 1970, Wikipedia is the 800-pound, no make that 8,000-pound, gorilla of wikis today. Even so, there are tens of thousands of wikis that are not Wikipedia.
2. Wikis don’t have to contain content created by users: Again, the Wikipedia approach heavily emphasizes user-created content. But (see #1) a wiki is a platform for content creation, organization and presentation. And while that platform is optimized for knowledge sharing by any user, all wikis don’t have to be created and managed that way. Indeed, the platform has other strengths that, in my opinion, far outweigh the user-contributed content aspect of the software. And to be entirely honest, the platform can often seem to be hostile to users who don’t spend the time necessary to master the basics of adding or editing content.
3. Wikis are knowledge-management systems: When you view a wiki as an encyclopedia (as most of us do), you miss a key strength of the platform. At Hammock, we’ve worked on projects that required a deep-dive into the practice and science of building a categorization, or “taxonomy” of a specific topic. Such an exercise is the domain of librarians and various academic disciplines — in other words, not writers or video producers or designers and other titles of “content” people. Learning “a little bit of taxonomy,” however, is a dangerous thing. It makes you realize how unorganized and unhelpful “content” can be that’s just posted on a blog or that appears in a magazine. It makes you realize that all that incredible wisdom (like, say, this post) is just a needle in a haystack because the tags we add to it are nice, but are, at best, bush-league when compared to professional librarian taxonomy. The wiki software platform that was created by that 800 lb. gorilla wiki, and that is used by SmallBusiness.com, was created and has been nurtured by men and women who dream in taxonomy and hierarchies. That means it has all sorts of built in ways to help the user find what they are looking for — features you’d likely never even look for before reading this post.
4. Google and Bing love wikis: I must clarify this by saying, “If a wiki is comprehensive, well-maintained, and follows the guidelines outlined in my future book, ‘Taxonomy by Dummies,’ it will enjoy the benefit of showing up high in internet search results.” That’s a lot of caveats. However, there are elements of a wiki entry (that I’ve outlined before elsewhere on Hammock.com) that correspond with attributes that are a part of Google’s mysterious algorithms. While most SEO experts will say that it’s “the backlinks” to a Wikipedia entry that causes it to show up highly on search results related to that topic, those links are just one facet of the Google-juice fortification found on a well-maintained wiki page. [A well-maintained wiki lesson: Try the following Google search: Town State small business. Spell out full name of town and state (not postal abbreviation).]
5. You can use the content you collect and organize in a wiki in lots of ways other than just on the wiki: If you read this NYTimes.com blog article, notice how you can hover over its icons and background information will appear in a pop-up or “modal box.” With a click, you can expand the box, without leaving the page. If you spend time developing a wiki that is filled with information that you know can help customers or users of your site easily access background information, one day you’ll start discovering all sorts of ways to distribute and syndicate wiki content in such ways. But here’s a warning: If you start thinking like that, you’ve become a wikimaniac, also.
Bottomline: Even though the word “wiki” comes from a Hawaiian phrase for “quick,” it has taken marketers a very long time to understand the strength and versatility of the platform.
*A recent post on my blog about the sale of SmallBusiness.com.